Is Argo historically accurate?

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With Argo winning the academy award for best picture, and the Iranian nuclear talks headed into their second day in Kazakhstan, Iran seems to be front and center on the world stage yet again.

On Sunday while Argo was receiving its award for best picture, I was actually watching the film.

While I found the movie to be extremely entertaining, it was obvious that a very complex event had been extremely dumbed down. The CIA are depicted as the good guys, while the Iranians are just barbaric, bearded monsters, searching for Americans to hang in the streets.

Curious to see if the events depicted in Argo were true, I took to the internet, seeking Iranian analyst reviews of the film. I did not have to look far….

 

WILLIAM O. BEEMAN, @wbeeman

Author of The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, Beeman said today:

“If it were a piece of fiction, I’d say that ‘Argo’ was great entertainment. But I was in Iran during the revolution and knew many of the people portrayed. A huge part of what’s depicted in the movie is fictionalized. Jimmy Carter himself acknowledged that the Canadians were responsible for 90 percent of getting the six embassy workers out. Tony Mendez [portrayed by Ben Affleck] was only in Iran for a day and a half.

“The danger of this for the American public is that it paints things as black and white with Americans and the CIA as the good guys and Iranians as bad guys out to kill any American they see. In fact, there were quite a few Americans living in Iran. The embassy workers were targeted because many of the Iranian revolutionaries were convinced that the U.S. was trying to re-install the Shah as it had done in 1953. …

“The P5 plus 1 talks start on Iran’s nuclear program tomorrow. How many Americans know that the Iranian nuclear program was started with U.S. encouragement 40 years ago?”

 

NIMA SHIRAZI, @WideAsleepNima

On Saturday, Shirazi posted the piece “Oscar Prints the Legend: Argo’s Upcoming Academy Award and the Failure of Truth,” which states: “Over the past 12 months, rarely a week — let alone a month — went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched ‘Argo,’ a decontextualized, ahistorical ‘true story’ of orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir aptly described the film as ‘a propaganda fable,’ explaining as others have that essentially none of its edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened. O’Hehir sums up:

The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the ‘house guests’ chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet..

“One of the actual hostages, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie ‘cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.’ The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful.”